*Editor’s note: Brandon Tanguma is a journalism student in SF State’s Journalism 575 Community Media this spring. Taught by professor Jon Funabiki, the class is a collaboration with El Tecolote.
The Coronavirus has cancelled indie wrestling, leaving those like 17-year-old Charlie Hilder and others to miss out on paychecks and career altering opportunities.
Bay Area’s largest indie wrestling promotion, All Pro Wrestling (APW), had to cancel their 2020 return because of the growing concerns of the coronavirus. APW announced on March 11 via their Facebook, the event “Blueprints” scheduled for March 14 in Daly City was cancelled. APW is one of the several wrestling promotions that have had to close their doors because of the coronavirus outbreak. APW announced that they are working on rescheduling a date for “Blueprints,” and offers a full refund to fans or the ticket will be honored at the show “Ronin” on May 8.
With the explosion of the internet and streaming services, indie promotions like APW have being growing in popularity like never before. APW has been the starting place for many wrestlers and gain national and worldwide acclaim, one wrestler that is on the rise is Starboy Charlie.
Charlie Hilder is a 17-year-old who started wrestling at 11. Hilder has started to make a name for himself on the indie scene with his unique blend of high-flying agility and technical amateur wrestling skill. “Blueprints” was going to be Hilder’s first show in months because he wrestles for Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, but he agrees with the decision to cancel the show.
“It’s kind of a bummer because I haven’t wrestled in a while, so I was pretty excited,” Hilder said. “It probably was the right call to cancel the show, just to be safe, but I’m not too worried about getting it.”
Another cancelled booking for Hilder was his biggest opportunity yet, a chance to wrestle during Wrestlemania weekend.
Wrestlemania is WWE’s biggest show of the year, attracting wrestling fans and promotions from all over the world and this year it was set to take place in Tampa, Fla. on April 5. When sports leagues around the world were suspending their season, WWE announced on March 12 they were still planning to host Wrestlemania at Raymond James Stadium in front of 70,000 plus fans. The wrestling world was in a state of uncertainty, some indie promotions began cancelling
Wrestlemania weekend events, while others stayed silent, and waited to see what WWE would do. On March 16, WWE announced that Wrestlemania will still take place on April 5, but in front of no fans at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., an unprecedented move.
Hider was set to wrestle for Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) on April 2. GCW cancelled all of their Wrestlemania weekend shows on March 17, with the hopes of coming back at a later date. Hilder expected this move would be coming, and while disappointed, he vows to return once the GCW event is rescheduled.
“I wouldn’t miss this show for anything. If it changes where it is at, then I’m going to change where I’m going,” Hilder said.
Sparky Ballard helped train Hilder, and he also provides the wrestling ring for APW. As a professional courtesy, APW notified Ballard before the announcement went public, and other promotions Ballard is affiliated with had to cancel upcoming events as well.
“This coronavirus definitely has affected some of the activities I was involved with on multiple levels,” Ballard said. “I even had an event in Oregon that got cancelled on me, literally the day before, they bought me a flight and everything.”
Ballard appreciates the promotions that have cancelled their events in order to keep the public safe. The decision is now being taken out of the promoter’s hands with the ongoing restrictions on public gatherings, especially in the Bay Area. Ballard does not expect wrestling to return until at least May.
The economic impact of the coronavirus could be devastating for the wrestling business, both for promotions and wrestlers. Ballard also runs a wrestling school in Pacifica, and he will talk to his five students to decide if they are going to continue training. Luckily Ballard has saved money and with his job as a maintenance worker, and is confident that he can continue to keep his gym open during these uncertain times.
“I lost out on a lot of money in March, that I was really counting on for paying my lease (for the wrestling school),” Ballard said. “Luckily I’m not completely reliant on wrestling, which is a good thing, because any wrestler that is solely reliant on paying their bills through wrestling better figure out a plan B real quick.”
Many wrestlers have online merchandise stores but that still does not equate to the money they would’ve made at live events. For many wrestlers, they make more money off of pictures and autographs than they do from the actual wrestling match.
Wrestling has been an escape for millions of people during troubling times, but now that escape has been taken away from them, but some promotions are running empty venue events. WWE is running their seven hours of live weekly programming from an empty WWE Performance Center, and their main competitor, All Elite Wrestling, will air their live two-hour show “Dynamite” from a closed set location. With wrestling being dependent on crowd reaction, watching a wrestling match without a crowd is uncanny, but that seems to be the standard for the foreseeable future.